Sticker shock isn’t slowing Americans’ fervor for weight-loss drugs as a new analysis finds the drugs can cost five times as much — or more — in the US than they do elsewhere in the world.
(Bloomberg) — Sticker shock isn’t slowing Americans’ fervor for weight-loss drugs as a new analysis finds the drugs can cost five times as much — or more — in the US than they do elsewhere in the world.
A one-month supply of Ozempic, Novo Nordisk A/S’s diabetes drug that’s often used for weight loss, has a list price of $936 in the US, but just $169 in Japan, according to a report Thursday from the Kaiser Family Foundation and Peterson Center on Healthcare. It’s about ten times more expensive in the US than it is in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia and France.
The most expensive in the class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists is Novo’s Wegovy. The medication contains the same ingredient as Ozempic, but at a higher dose, and is approved for obesity in the US, Germany and the Netherlands. Wegovy costs $1,349 per month in the US and just $328 in Germany. Eli Lilly & Co.’s Mounjaro — another diabetes medication expected to get US approval for weight loss this year — costs $1,023 per month in the US and $444 in the Netherlands, which has the next highest list price.
So far, public and private insurers in the US haven’t been convinced the medications are worth the cost. Just a quarter of private insurance plans cover GLP-1 drugs for weight loss, and they’re not covered by Medicare, the federal health program for older and disabled people. State Medicaid coverage is also spotty. Between cost and ongoing supply problems, some patients have been seeking out cheap knock-off versions of the drugs.
Read More: Insurers Leave Patients to Pay $10,000 a Year for Obesity Drugs
It’s not unusual for medications to cost more in the US, where the government doesn’t negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to determine prices, a common practice in other countries. A 2021 RAND Corp. report found that prescription drug prices in the US were 2.6 times higher on average than those in 32 other wealthy nations. For brand-name drugs, prices in the US were more than three times as expensive.
That’s especially true for insulins, another type of medication for people with diabetes. For example, Lilly’s Humalog, a medication that people with diabetes use to control blood sugar, costs $524 in the US for a supply of five syringes, according to data from the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute. In Germany, the same number of injections is $79. Price differences for drugs, such as those for hepatitis C, are even more expensive.
However, the Inflation Reduction Act could change this for certain high-price drugs. In the coming weeks, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will announce which 10 drugs it intends to target for price negotiations in 2026. Court filings have already revealed that Merck & Co.’s type 2 diabetes drug Januvia will be on the list.
Because weight loss drugs aren’t covered by Medicare, they won’t be on the chopping block this round.
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